Given that 19,000 homes – those of more than 108,000 people – were destroyed or severely damaged during the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip between 8 July and 28 August 2014, and that importing construction materials remains severely restricted, a large number of internally displaced persons are expected to continue in protracted (long term) displacement.
The Norwegian Refugee Committee wrote that it would take 20 years to rebuild Gaza while Oxfam stated that, as of February 2015, reconstruction would take a century. To date, the international community has not rebuilt a single home.
The Shelter Cluster is a United Nations-led global mechanism composed of multiple organizations and led in Gaza by the Norwegian Refugee Committee (NRC). The Gaza Shelter Cluster reported in May 2015 that, as a result of the attack on Gaza, 12,620 homes (housing units) were totally destroyed and 6,455 homes were severely damaged rendering them uninhabitable. A total of about 150,000 homes are deemed to have minor and major damage requiring repair. They acknowledge that while some repairs have begun, no homes were yet rebuilt with aid.
However, the data provided by the Shelter Cluster calls for clarification given feedback from Gazans about problems in the aid system:
• Why do aid actors assume that the amount of construction supplies allocated through the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism is sufficient to fully repair a home?
• Are repairs verified or does the Shelter Cluster assume that people who buy cement are making repairs?
• Are activities of the Palestinian Authority included in data provided by the Shelter Cluster?
• Why are major aid actors submitting incomplete data to reports of the Shelter Cluster?
While important, the focus on reconstruction of homes provides only partial insight into the displacement of Gazans. Figures, such as the oft-quoted, “100,000 Gazans still displaced” should be considered critically.
Residents of Gaza are displaced not only because of damage to housing, but also because homes are made unlivable due to poor water, electricity, sanitation or risk of violence. These elements and the destruction to public facilities like hospitals, schools or sewage treatment plants are as important to addressing displacement as habitable housing. Moreover, Israel has revoked the residency rights of over 100,000 Palestinians in Gazan contributing to the forced displacement of Palestinians internally and outside of the Gaza Strip. These are examples of the ongoing multi-layered displacement tactics that began with Israel’s establishment and have changed but not abated. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) keeps count of registered refugees, but because no organization systematically tracks and compiles data on the full effect of forced migration, estimates of displaced Palestinians in Gaza should be understood as incomplete. The unresolved and compounding effect of Palestinian displacement beginning at least since 1948 is an essential factor that is neglected in much of the aid discourse and the international community’s responses.
This technical and self-serving distortion of data is clear in current media reports. For example, if we consider not only the 17,500 families (100,000 people) still homeless from the 2014 war but we include the estimated 5,000 homes not yet repaired from previous wars and the estimated deficit of 71,000 homes due to the blockade, there are actually more like 533,200 displaced -- not merely the 100,000 being reported.
Why would aid actors be complicit in so dramatically under-reporting a significant indicator?